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Posts Tagged ‘lutfur rahman’

Well, here’s a blast from the past. Do you remember my favourite thin-skinned council spin doctor, the one who ordered security guards to frog march me out of a council meeting because I told him quietly he was acting like a prick by stopping me doing my job?

The one I believe tried to get me sacked from the Sunday Express because I had used one of its scanners to copy a leaked council document?

The one who wasted £123,000 of council cash hiring PR consultants Champollion to try and undermine John Ware’s BBC Panorama documentary on Lutfur Rahman?

The one who spun the true £1.6m cost of producing East End Life?

The one who before he took up his £100k a year job at Tower Hamlets council was a Labour councillor in Haringey where when in charge of social services he complained about regulators giving his department a zero star rating in the wake of the Victoria Climbie scandal?

There are many other fond memories of dear Takki Sulaiman, I’m sure.

When it became clear that the writing was on the wall for Lutfur, Takki quickly deserted the sinking ship and in January 2015 headed for the head of communications job at Aberdeen council. Not surprisingly, his £80k appointment immediately caused a political row.

A little over two years later and after what appears to be a mixed record with the council, his post was made redundant. He now runs some sort of holiday home on the shores of Loch Awe, according to the Press and Journal. Good luck to him; I’m sure the Trip Advisor ratings will be fabulous.

And the newspaper has this gem: that his golden goodbye settlement was £63,000. That’s £63k of public money – £30k tax free.

I don’t think any more comment is needed.

Here’s the full piece from the Press and Journal’s John Hebditch.

A former city council spin doctor was given a £63,000 golden goodbye when he left the authority last year.

Former head of communication and promotion Takki Sulaiman, who was known as the authority’s “happiness tsar”, departed last May.

New figures from the Taxpayers’ Alliance have shown he was paid a salary of £80,697 – and received a pay-off of £63,000 when leaving.

Mr Sulaiman was formerly a Labour councillor in the scandal-hit London borough of Tower Hamlets.

The opposition SNP and Liberal Democrat groups criticised his appointment in November 2014, but the Labour-led administration at the time insisted that the HR team had not been told of his political background.

SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said: “The administration was told that the council did not need a spin doctor but they pushed ahead and the cost borne by the people of Aberdeen is eye-watering.”

But Aberdeen Labour council co-leader Jenny Laing hit back: “Although Mr Sulaiman’s stay with the council was short he did help create the successful 365 project which has brought forward the Great Aberdeen Run, tour cycle race and Nuart which have all contributed to the cultural offering of Aberdeen.”

The spin doctor position has since been abolished.

It is understood that Mr Sulaiman how runs a self-catering property on the shores of Loch Awe on the west coast.

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RK Google award

OK, it’s been a while and I won’t promise anything regular, but as it’s election time I thought this site could do with a little activity.

A senior Labour member I spoke to today believes John Biggs has it in the bag, albeit with one caveat that if there has been some sort of deal between Rabina Khan and the Tories (as quite a few have rumoured) in which Tory supporters are urged to give their second preferences to Rabina, then there could be a small problem. But on reflection he thought that wouldn’t even matter.

He thinks as this would be John’s last term, he would be free to enact some bold policies without the worry of bickering internal Labour politics (which sounds like wishful thinking to me…).

Has there been a deal between Rabina and Peter Golds? I’ve deliberately not spoken to either of them on this yet and just wanted to float that idea first.

It is also widely rumoured that she has long done a deal with Elaine Bagshaw’s Lib Dems, which is far more plausible given the potential trouble the Tories might from CCHQ.

And what’s confirmed is that she has accepted Helal Abbas’s lieutenant, Cllr Khales Uddin, as one of her candidates who was recently deselected by Labour amid allegations he had racially abused a fellow party member (he denies that). Rabina believes this shows her People’s Alliance party is a broad church because Khales was a key figure in the Election Court hearing that brought down Lutfur. He also happens to be personally popular in his Bromley North seat.

Rabina is desperate for all the help she can get having fallen out spectacularly with her old Lutfur crew, the consequences of which have seen her the target of some fairly hostile personal attacks.

And a leaflet issued by her team setting out her manifesto is one of the most grown up pieces of work I’ve seen in Tower Hamlets, but that’s possibly because she doesn’t have any party apparatus to speak of.

In it she pledges not only a cross party cabinet (on the face of it a bold and good idea, but fraught with problems) and that could be a clue to that rumoured deal.

And then there is this: she also promises to hold a referendum “to ask the people” whether they want to retain the mayoral system. The former Lutfur cheerleader, who at the time he was in power said there was nothing to see here, guv, now says “we all need a listening council that is both transparent and accountable”. Which is what they all say, I guess. However, it is welcome.

Her slogan is “for a fresh start” but that might well apply to her just as much as it does to Tower Hamlets. Her luck might be better third time around in four years’ time.

Here’s her leaflet.

rabina khan, tower hamlets

And here’s a wee video someone sent me of her at a recent hustings. My source said this was Rabina “unshackled”, although to me it just likes a normal politician speaking sensibly at an event. That’s progress.

 

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The following is a guest post by Mayor John Biggs who wants to put his side of the argument on the youth sport funding row. It follows two previous guest posts (here and here) by Chris Dunne of the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation whose future is under threat due to funding problems.

This guest post is interesting because whether you agree with the mayor or not, you can see a logical and reasoned approach to decision-making – an insight never seen with his predecessor, Lutfur Rahman.

Doesn’t mean he’s right, though.

For those desperate for more politics, gossip, accusations of sexism and just general bitching, as well as the serious policy issues like this, take heart – I will report back soon.

 

By Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets mayorI should start by welcoming Ted back to the world of Tower Hamlets politics: your absence has been noticed and it is good to see you return to the fold. In a healthy democracy people should always feel able to question, quiz and disagree with decisions politicians make, I have no doubt you will do all three and keep us on our toes.

I know you ran a post from Tower Hamlets Youth and Sports Foundation (THYSF) and I wanted to set out my case for the decision the Council has made as a right of reply.

The 2012 Games promised a lot and whilst the Olympics have delivered some incredible economic regeneration results it’s fair to say the sports legacy from the Games has fallen below expectations.

This is in no small part due to decisions by the Coalition Government to slash funding to school sports and abolish the ring-fenced funding given to School Sport Partnerships like the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation.

Contrary to some assertions Tower Hamlets Council is not cutting the THYSF. It is not a council-funded service but we have provided them with emergency funding when they faced budget challenges. In fact over the past year we have provided around £150,000 to help cover their deficit..

The problem facing THYSF is that they have always been primarily funded by the schools they provide services to; aside from the small amount of funding the council gets from Sport England which we gave to THYSF to support their programmes.

As Chris Dunne rightly stated in his first article Michael Gove’s scrapping of funding for Sports Partnerships made this model far harder to work. The decision over following years to squeeze school budgets tighter and tighter made things more problematic for THYSF as school funding has reduced.

As a result the THYSF ended the 2016/17 year with a deficit of around £150k.

Valuing the service THYSF provides, the council agreed to underwrite those costs but asked that THYSF produce a business plan that addressed the financial concerns and demonstrated that THYSF can cover all its expenditure from the income it receives, whether by way of the agreements, called SLAs, with the schools to provide services, or from community activities from which additional income can be raised.

In addition to the financial support provided by the council, we offered officer support to better understand the challenges facing THYSF.

This work forecast a further deficit of up to £190k later this year and highlighted the overall challenge facing THYSF, that its costs are fixed, staffing etc, but its income fluctuates significantly.

Furthermore, the analysis found that school subscriptions have been falling for the past three years which has resulted in reducing income at the same time as there has been an increase in the charity’s cost base.

governance-sub_01

Chris Dunne, of the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation

In 2012 I understand there were 87 schools buying into THYSF services. In 2017 there are only around 37 with Service agreements with THYSF. That has hit THYSF’s income despite costs staying broadly stable. I appreciate that THYSF dispute these figures and may have others paying for some of their services via other means, but clearly they are facing an existential crisis because of reduced income.

I cannot speak for why schools chose to withdraw from THYSF however it is clear Government cuts have made school budgets far tighter over that time.

Whilst THYSF are not a council service, we have supported them by covering their deficit last year.

The Council has not withdrawn any of its existing funding sources, nor were we proposing to. In fact we have given THYSF more money than ever over the past year to give them time to come up with a new business plan.

Currently the organisation’s staff are formally employed by Langdon Park School. Given the increasing concerns about THYSF’s finances the school no longer wish to host them as they could end up liable for any deficit.

Sadly, we are left with limited options.

Why doesn’t the Council just fund THYSF?

The answer put forward by some that the council just take over THYSF and make them a council department is fraught with risk for taxpayers – it would mean assimilating a service with staffing costs in the region of £600,000-650,000 a year. It would mean adopting a service for which funding does not exist in our budgets and it would not be fair on existing employees who are facing tough choices and restructures.

Central Government cuts mean we have to save 1 in every 6 pounds we currently spend – that’s £58m over this and the coming years with yet more cuts looming on the horizon.

It may be easy for other political groups to play politics about this issue; however my administration has had to clear up the mismanagement of the past at the same time as facing devastating cuts from Central Government.

There is also an urban myth circulating that the council spends £3.8m on sports already and all we need to do is reallocate some of that. This just simply is not true. The actual budget for our sports team is around £1.1m which achieves excellent value for money providing services such as:

  • Our weekly Disability Sport Programme enabling 10,000 mainly young people with disabilities participate in activities at Mile End Park Leisure Centre.
  • Community programmes in the borough’s parks including a free health & fitness programme targeting approximately 2,000 inactive people, the majority of which have been women and girls.
  • Our Summer Sports Programme in Parks, leisure centres and the community which last year saw over 13,000 people take part in a diverse range of sports and activities for young people ranging from athletics and BMX/cycling to canoeing and kayaking.
  • Programmes like the Young@Heart for the Over 50’s, The Women and Girls Swim Programme, Sport4Women and Disability sport programme, free swimming on Fridays and Saturdays and under 16 swimming for just £1. These all make sporting activities accessible and affordable for residents of all ages.
  • On top of that our Sports team has generated over £4 million in external funding from organisations such as London Marathon Trust, Sport England, The Premier League and FA Facilities Fund. Without this work, the improvements to the borough’s sporting infrastructure, particularly those in our parks, would cease. The Stepney Green Astro-turf, the refurbishment of the borough’s tennis courts, the replacement of the astro-turf at John Orwell Sports Centre and Mile End Stadium, the resurfacing of the athletics track at Mile End Stadium. All were made possible by the council’s investment in sports.

Much of this work would be at risk if we cut funding from the current service in order to reallocate it to THYSF. These are improvements which benefit the whole community including our young people.

What we are planning to do

THYSF’s future is in their own hands. The council has supported them for a year to give them extra time but we cannot do so forever as we just do not have the funds, much like the schools who are choosing to no longer buy their services.

Like any organisation THYSF must produce a plan which balances its income with its costs. They have to do so now as Langdon Park School have decided to  end the relationship with THYSF.  The Foundation either have to choose to employ its staff directly or to close.

It is clear that Government cuts have made it far harder for schools to afford the THYSF service; particularly if similar organisations offer it for less money. That is a decision for schools. It is a challenge that is facing schools across the country.

I have said all along that we would support THYSF to step out on their own should they wish to set up as a new social enterprise. They would still need a solid business plan and the council would probably commission them to run some of the services they offer. That is why the council is funding a consultant to work with THYSF to help them work up this kind of proposal. What we cannot do is take their organisation into the council without the finances to pay for it.

Should THYSF close, the council will use the funding we receive from Sport England, which we currently give to THYSF, to help us step-in and support the running of the inter-borough and School Games. Similarly, we will continue to support the borough’s participation in the London Youth Games, as we are committed to ensuring young people do not lose out on these opportunities.

We would also ensure schools are offered a core package of sports by other high-quality providers including specialist cricket, hockey, cycling, football and other sports in conjunction with national sport governing bodies and organisations like Middlesex Cricket, England Hockey and professional football clubs who run these programmes in many other areas. It is however important that we act quickly, to ensure our young people have continuing support in the new school year.

I have considered the information that THYSF have sent through and wrote to Chris on 3rd August setting out the support we have offered at each stage of the process. Whilst I sympathise with THYSF’s position, it simply isn’t the case that without them there would be no sport provision for young people. We have worked with them to support and underwrite their costs over the past year.

I also understand why in times of financial challenges Langdon Park School view their current position of directly employing all the THYSF staff as unsustainable. I would be more than happy to see THYSF spin themselves off as a charitable enterprise, and I have been clear the council would support that. What I cannot do is cut other vital services the council provides in order to save a model which has hit financial challenges and will continue to do so, as a result of schools choosing to pull out from funding the organisation.

Chris is entirely right that, with a few sad exceptions, politicians don’t go into public life to ‘do bad things for their electors.’ This is a tricky situation and not one which is anywhere near as simple as some have tried to make out but like Chris I believe in the power of sports to transform lives. That is why whatever happens to THYSF we will continue to ensure that young people in our borough have the opportunities to participate in high quality sports and inter-borough and London-wide games.

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cropped-lutfur-and-ohid.jpgI’ve written before about the strange parallels between the 2010-15 Clown Period of Tower Hamlets politics and the current circus of Corbyn’s Labour party (threats of legal actions, Respect and Momentum, infiltration, intimidation, Ken Livingstone, Jon Lansman etc etc…

So it wasn’t particularly surprising that last night, as Labour’s NEC squabbled over their party’s rule book and who could stand for leader, a similar meeting was being held at the Teviot Centre in Poplar by the collection of councillors currently calling themselves Tower Hamlets Independent Group, or THING.

This meeting, held to discuss among other things who would be THING’s mayoral candidate for 2018, was not only attended by Lutfur Rahman, but he presided over it as well.

And, quelle surprise, it ended in bitterness – and allegations of physical intimidation.

By way of background, Lutfur has apparently for the past couple of months been anointing that seesaw of a councillor, Ohid Ahmed (one day’s he’s a defecting independent, the next he’s back with THING), as his chosen candidate for 2018.

rabina khanQuite why he’s chosen Ohid is anyone’s guess. It’s mysterious. Why not stick with Rabina Khan, who polled 27,000 votes in last year’s mayoral election and who could quite easily broaden her support base? Perhaps he’s worried if Rabina won in 2018, he’d never get back in after his ban expires in time for 2022. Rabina was not of course Lutfur’s first choice for mayoral candidate after he was kicked out of office last year. He had to be persuaded to back her. He originally wanted a man.

So at the meeting last night, there was a disagreement about the process to choose the official candidate.

The disagreement, according to those there, turned into a full blown shouting match with what some felt was an air of physical intimidation.

So much so that group leader Oli Rahman, Aminur Khan, his wife Rabina and Shah Alam have filed an official complaint to their own party about Mr Selfie himself, the not-always-so-mild mannered Mahbub Alam.

The complaint was sent to THING’s chair, Abdul Asad, who has apparently since resigned for personal reasons.

Here it is:

Cllr Abdul Asad

Chair of TH IG

Date: 13 July 2016

We are writing to you as the Chair of the THI group to make an official complaint regarding the verbal, physical behaviour and conduct of Cllr Mahbub Alam at the group meeting took place on 12 July 2016.

We are shocked and saddened how Cllr Alam behaved, getting up from his chair threatening leader of the group Cllr Oliur Rahman, Cllr Shah Alam and Cllr Aminur Khan. We believe, his behaviour was a breach of council’s code of conduct and our group Constitution. We expected him to be reprimanded, however to our disappointment that did not take place.

His behaviour was unacceptable and we seek for you to take appropriate action. Cllr Mahbub Alam stood up from his chair and threatened firstly Cllr Rahman, then Cllr Shah Alam and Cllr Aminur Khan, then Cllr Mahbub Alom tried to attack Cllr Khan physically, which was totally unacceptable.

We are now asking you as group chair to take appropriate action and if no action is taken  then we will have no alternative but to complaint to councils monitoring officer.

We, look forward to your reply.

Kind Regards

Cllr Aminur Khan

Cllr Oliur Rahman

Cllr Rabina Khan

Cllr Shah Alam

Throughout much of this, sources tell me, Lutfur sat there allowing the fighting to continue before finally intervening.

I suspect the upshot of it all will be another split in THING, with the group of four forming their own group.

If you thought Lutfur was gone for good, think again. It’s amazing how bankruptcy can focus the mind.

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At Lutfur Rahman’s first full council as mayor in October 2010, the East London Advertiser reported the following:

Lutfur Rahman will not have appreciated that his first matter of council business last night (October 27) as the borough’s new mayor was a £10,000 cut to his salary.

Appearing at the first council meeting at the Town Hall in Mulberry Place since his election, he spoke of his pride in his new role in front of over 100 supporters in the public gallery.

Tower Hamlet’s first-ever directly-elected mayor also rewarded his campaign manager, Ohid Ahmed, by appointing him as deputy mayor but will wait until November 11 to announce his cabinet.

Mr Rahman’s joy at the occasion soon turned to dismay though as he accused the council’s Labour Group of pettiness in putting forward an amendment to cut his annual salary from £75,095 to £65,000.

The amendment to a constitutional report, which also limits the number of paid advisers the Mayor can employ, was passed by the council.

Mayor Rahman said: “It saddens me on the first day that we indulge in this kind of petty politics.

“During my two years as council leader I was the only leader in this council’s history that took a 25 per cent pay cut for the year.

“Let me say, I don’t do this for money but let me remind you I have given up a successful legal career and a partnership in a legal firm.

“What drives me is will and the urge to serve. I am happy with whatever I am paid.”

The mayors of Hackney, Lewisham and Newham earn salaries of between £75,000 and £78,000 a year.

Speaking to the council, Labour councillor Josh Peck, chairman of the working group which put forward the constitutional report, said there had been an ‘oversight’ after the report was originally agreed in August.

At an internal Labour meeting in September, members narrowly voted to increase the salary for the full-time role to £75,000 but Mr Peck told The Advertiser today this shouldn’t have been included in the report because it was not agreed by other parties.

Last night, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem councillors all voted in favour of the amendment.

But Independent councillor Oliur Rahman, one of the ‘gang-of-eight’ councillors expelled from the Labour Party for backing Lutfur Rahman’s mayoral bid, said: “This can only be a petty and cynical response to losing an election.”

Mr Peck replied that the lower salary was set before mayoral candidates were selected and said the new mayor proposed a salary of £32,000 before he was shortlisted.

He said today: “£65,000 is the right salary, it is a good salary.”

This coming Wednesday, the full council will in Item 11 debate the pay arrangements for elected representatives over the coming year.

In an email to councillors eight days ago, Mayor John Biggs explained the proposal from the majority Labour group (which is likely to pass).

This is the proposed table of pay:

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 11.13.49

[Since his email, proposed pay rises have been suggested for the Speaker to £10,000 and for the Deputy Speaker to £5,000.]

First off, let’s have these facts in our minds: 1) deep Government cuts affecting frontline services; 2) pay for most local government employees is proposed to go up by just 1% this year; 3) councillors’ pay has remained frozen for a number of years; 4) some councillors rely on their allowances as sole (declared) income (not a good thing); and 5) very many councillors work extremely hard, while others do not.

Under these proposals, there will be inflation-busting pay rises for everyone. Basic pay for all councillors will go up by 5.3%. Oli Rahman would see his Special Responsibility Allowance for being leader of the THING go up to £11,300 (7.5%); and Tory leader Peter Golds would have a 40% jump in his SRA from £5,709 to £8,000. The total pot paid to councillors for all these roles would rise 6%.

But most of the political backlash will no doubt focus on John Biggs.

As I’m sure you’ve already spotted, the proposed mayoral salary goes back to the figure slashed by Labour more than five years ago – to £75,000. He has announced he accept only half that rise this year (to around £70k), and will take the rest next year if progress has been made. And although he’s entitled to £11,300 as a majority group leader, I think I’m right in saying he doesn’t take that.

The likes of Oli will also point out that John’s pay rise comes just a week or so after the loss of his salary for being a GLA member.
I think this is a difficult one. Pay at some levels of local government is outrageously poor; at others it’s ridiculously high. The council has just recruited a new head of communications, for example, at a salary of around £100k. Many believe that’s way too high, while others believe it needs pitching at that level to attract good candidates. But whatever the merits of that salary, should the executive mayor’s post, done properly, be valued almost a third lower?

I asked John to justify the rise in the context of cuts and value for money. His answer below is damning of his predecessor’s work ethic (something that is echoed among senior officers). This is what he told me:

Because of the stand-off between the former mayor and council there had been no proper review of allowances for some years. The proper time for such changes is in my view in the period immediately following the elections but this was missed. 

I am proposing a number of changes to committees and structures and as a part of this a short review of allowances. I have informed and involved the opposition leaders in these discussions. The main change is to update the general allowance paid to all members.  Increases are also proposed for those holding Special Responsibilities (SRAs), and for the Mayor.

If agreed the Tower Hamlets allowances will become fairly average for London and our Mayor would remain the lowest paid. If the Council agreed the change to my allowance I would only take half of it, with the other half next year provided we have made further progress in sorting the Council out.

As a further consideration for members, particularly those who rely on their allowances for a significant part of their income, it is worth noting that the Government recently banned members from membership of the pension scheme, which included employers contributions of over 10% on top of their allowance. This loss is partially also reflected in the updating of allowances proposed.

As far as the cuts argument is concerned: there is never a good time to agree allowances, but all are within or below the range suggested by an independent panel for all London councillors, whose report guided us. However, the increased cost of about £46,000 should be considered against the saving of about £300,000 in the costs of operating the Mayor’s office, and the mayors allowance compared the the scrapping of the chauffeured car, which saved about £30,000 a year.

A comparison with council staff is tempting but is based on soft foundations – whereas for example many council officers receive increments, promotions or upgrading, plus an annual increase in most years, elected members have no such opportunities and do not have secure employment as councillors, while making in most cases great personal and career sacrifices. It’s quite right that these are tough times but the proposals are a recommendation and up to the Council to agree or reject.

As regards my workload and whether I am worth a reasonable pay that is for others to judge, but I work at least 80 hours a week, am at my desk by 7.15am most mornings, getting home normally after 10pm. As an indicator, I read and respond to about 1000 emails a week, with more than this dealt with by my office. The council is in a worse state than I had expected – beyond the headlines of the misbehaviour of the previous mayor a whole number of key decisions had been missed, in an outrageous failure of leadership.  Were it not for the superb effort and commitment of many of our officers we would be in a far worse state. 

I anticipate working at this level for the foreseeable future. The previous Mayor on the other hand, as far as I can tell, rarely appeared before the afternoon, generally failed to keep appointments, never sent emails on official business and appears to have ‘kicked the can down the road’ where leadership was needed.

Those who said he was a hero should more accurately perhaps have scored him as a zero. And the borough will take some time to recover. It takes serious and dedicated effort to do that.

An executive mayor is full time job. If he had more hair, John I’m sure would say he’s a L’Oreal mayor (“because I’m worth it”.) Is he? What do you think?

He’s going to get a lot of flak for this – and as it was Labour which cut Lutfur’s pay, he knows where to point the finger of blame…

Personally, I think if he does the job well, he deserves it. I have more concern over SRAs paid to other councillors, and it will be interesting to examine who gets which posts for the coming year and then to check their attendance records thus far.

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One thing I’ve noticed over the past 11 years covering Tower Hamlets is how easy it is to find some kind of link in national political rows to the politics of east London.

Today, the Mail on Sunday carries a story on comments made at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign hustings in Ealing in February 2015.

It quotes Rupa Huq, then the parliamentary candidate for Ealing Central and now its MP, telling the audience that a Labour government “could probably” ensure Britain apologised for helping to create the state of Israel in 1948.

The story says this is the latest episode in Labour’s anti-Semitism row.

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for Rupa Huq. Ten days ago, she unwisely went on to the Today programme in an attempt to defend Naz Shah over her anti-Semitic Facebook postings. She told Radio 4: “If it is career destroying it seems we are entering a phase where its trial by Twitter. As far as I know Naz Shah did not write antisemitic tracts or anything, she pressed ‘Share’ on a picture which was idiotic and foolish.

“I do think this does demonstrate the perils of social media. As far as I understand, this is before she was an MP, before she was a candidate even. She shared a post on Facebook. It’s easy to click those buttons.”

It’s not only the perils of social media. As Rupa is learning, it’s also the perils of speaking in public, on the hoof, on matters about which you’re not fully briefed, where anyone can record you, and particularly if those knowledge gaps include Palestine and Israel.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.35.55I first met Rupa in 2007, when she was up against the likes of Lutfur Rahman, John Biggs and Rushanara Ali in Tower Hamlets trying to secure the Labour candidacy for Bethnal Green in Bow. She wrote a short diary piece (left) about her experiences for me at the East London Advertiser at the time – and asked it be headlined ‘Diary of a Nobody’.

She struck me then as being slightly naive about the poisonous waters of Tower Hamlets politics and I was relieved for her when she failed to beat Rushanara.

I’m not sure some of that general naivety has completely disappeared.

As a direct result of the Mail article (which, at her insistence, this morning changed the words ‘should apologise’ in its headline to ‘could apologise’), she has received some pretty vile hate mail by email.

This one has been forwarded to the police:

“Get out of my country you ugly racist cu*t! Ugly, smelly Muslim vermin.”

I won’t name the person who emailed this, but let’s look at what prompted him to send it.

In the article, Rupa was quoted in this context:

Answering a question about whether an apology should be made, Ms Huq said: ‘1948, that happened under a British government. To my mind, an apology – yes. You could do one. A Labour Government could probably get that through.’

She added: ‘But it sounds a bit Tony Blair to me though, and we all know what happened to him.

Ms Huq – whose sister is the former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq – told The Mail on Sunday that the remarks she made did not reflect her actual views.

‘I don’t think that, those aren’t my views,’ she said. ‘I was answering a question. I went on later to say that there shouldn’t be an apology.

‘I have supported Labour Friends of Israel events and am a signatory to the We Believe In Israel charter.’

The video clip of the meeting is here:

Rupa told me today that with Angie Bray, the Tory candidate, declining to attend the February 2015 meeting, she was ‘probably the most right wing person there’ and was frequently jeered. She said she felt a little bit out of her depth on the specifics of questions raised.

She said the candidates were asked ‘Should the UK apologise for Israel?’ This was her answer in full:

“On the question of the historic legacy… I mean I said at the beginning that it’s a long, long history – you can trace it back to BC. I mean I think you’re referring more specifically to 1948 that happened under a British government? To my mind… an apology… Yes you could do one…. a Labour government could probably get that through, but it sounds a bit Tony Blair to me though, and we all know what happened to himHe did apologies for the Irish potato famine in 1998 amongst other things but he was pilloried. I mean you couldn’t make it up.

“But yeah, it would be possible to do an apology, but I think what’s more important is to move forward and to make sure that Palestinian people can live in peace in an independent state of their own, I think that’s what we need to focus on. I mean an apology – yeah you could do that, it might be symbolic but for the future we want a viable Palestine.”

So a bit more nuanced. She is a strong supporter of the two-state solution and strongly supports Israel’s right to exist. No doubt she’ll get vile emails from the other side now.

However, for the wellbeing of her own political career, she’d be well advised to stick to subjects on which she is a master of detail from now on…and stay away from the media for a while.

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Today is International Mother Language Day, which according to Wikipedia “is a worldwide annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”.

Wikipedia adds: “International Mother Language Day has been being observed since 2000 to promote peace and multilingualism. The date corresponds to the day in 1952 when students from the University of DhakaJagannath University and Dhaka Medical College, demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan, were shot dead by police near the Dhaka High Court in the capital of present-day Bangladesh.”

So in Tower Hamlets in particular in the UK it is a significant day, one that is celebrated by several events such as the laying of flowers in Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel.

I’m only into my third lesson learning Bengali and all I can do so far is offer a few basic greetings, say ‘I don’t understand’, and count to 30…which at my pace is long enough to utter the kind of sigh we all thought was disappearing from Tower Hamlets.

One of the songs people sing on this day is…well, instead of me explaining, let’s refer to the council’s own ‘cultural walk’ leaflet for ‘Banglatown and the Bengali East End‘, which states:

In February 1999 the United Nations declared February 21 World Mother Language Day. At midnight on 20 February (Shahid Dibosh) the Language Movement is remembered in a solemn ceremony in the Park – to which the Bengali community comes to lay wreaths. Abdul Gaffar Choudhury, journalist and freeman of Tower Hamlets, wrote the well-known Martyr’s Day song Amar bhaier rokte rangano Ekushe February which is sung at the ceremony.

Abdul_Gaffar_ChoudhuryAbdul Gaffar Choudhury, 81, as might be expected of someone  honoured as a Freeman of the Borough, is famous and highly respected.

He also has a Wikipedia entry, which outlines his long career as a journalist and columnist, the last 41 years of which have been based here in the UK.

Today, he was due to appear at the Whitechapel Idea Store for a panel discussion on the Language Movement alongside a couple of academics and Mayor John Biggs.

This was the advert put out by the council ahead of the event:

IMLDay-2016 copy

But when we arrived, visitors were met by this:

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The extremely courteous Idea Store manager told me that council bosses had cancelled the event after a “reassessment”. He explained that senior managers had at the last minute decided Choudhury’s presence on council property for such an event was not consistent with council booking policies and procedures.

People could sing his song but not hear his words.

Why? Because a complaint had been made by some in the Tower Hamlets community that he had made “defamatory remarks” about Sylhetis (who form by far the vast majority of Bangladeshis in the East End), including Lutfur Rahman and twice convicted insurance fraudster Mahee Jalil Ferdous. And that were the Idea Store event to go ahead there would be “violence”.

Seriously. A threat of violence was made and the council kowtowed.

At this point, I declare an interest. My brother-in-law, Ansar Ahmed Ullah, a man I respect deeply, had been one of the people organising another event in honour of Gaffar Choudhury, for yesterday at the council owned Brady Centre. That was also cancelled. I would normally stay clear of the often problematic politics of Bangladesh on this blog but this episode has broader implications and lessons for everyone to digest.

The row centres on an interview Gaffar Choudhury gave during a chat show on the British Bengali television station Channel i some weeks ago.

According to his enemies, Choudhury, regarded as a Dhaka intellectual, is supposed to have deeply insulted Sylhetis in London by implying they were illiterate and uneducated. He is supposed to have used the phrase “from langol to London”.

One councillor who had no axe to grind on either side told me: “A langol is what farmers use to cut the rice harvest, a knife-like object. So people interpreted his comments as him trying to say Sylhetis are uneducated rural peasant farmers who have suddenly been lifted from their rice fields and dropped into civilised London and don’t know how to behave.”

Gaffar Choudhury and his allies insist he meant no such thing. They say that throughout his life he’s been supportive of Sylhetis and they have always been there for him in times of trouble. They say he was actually praising Sylhetis by saying it was they  who have been upholding the traditions and heritage of Bangladeshis in Britain, and not the educated classes who should have done so.

I understand he was particularly critical of Lutfur (guilty electoral offences) and Mahee Jalil (twice convicted of insurance fraud and founder of Channel S TV) and one or two other self-described unelected “community leaders”. Which is possibly why a great fuss then made.

Even hardened Tower Hamlets politicos have been taken aback by the reaction. They have told me there is politics at play, not just the usual Swami League/Bangladesh National Party spats, but also among those seeking a mayoral power play in Tower Hamlets.

So out came the Tower Hamlets Activist Handbook and a long and angry rally was booked last month at the Water Lily to whip up the masses in Mile End. Former Labour councillor Motin Uz-Zaman was there, as was Ohid Ahmed, Oli Rahman, the latter two apparently appealing for a reasonable response. Others demanded boycotts of Gaffar Choudhury.

Then word got out that the council had invited their Freeman to the Whitechapel Idea Store for Language Day.

So the Greater Sylhet Council UK, one of Lutfur’s favourite rabble rousers, decided to tell Tower Hamlets council what a mistake they were making.

Here’s an email they sent to the council to warn of a violent reaction if the event went ahead.

Dear Judith,

I got an information from the authentic sources that you have organised a programme for the International Mother Language Day at the White Chapel Idea Store on Sunday 21st February.

You have invited Abdul Gaffar Choudhury as a panel member for this event. I would like to inform you that Mr Abdul Gaffar choudhury made a defamatory remarks about our Sylheti Bangladeshi community, founder of chanel S & other community leaders on live TV talk shaw on 12th December.

He also made anti religion remarks in Newyork. Few weeks ago 700 people attended to a protest meeting at the Water Lily,Mile End Road,London E1 against Abdul Gaffar Choudhury.

In this meeting Journalists,community leaders,religious leaders including ex councillor Matinuzzaman,Cllr oliur Rahman,cllr Ohid Ahmed delivered the speeches.

They have called to boycott Abdul Gaffar Choudhury from all events of the community.

we are going to take a legal action against him. Our community are so upset and furious against him. If you allow him to come at the Idea Store, there will be a public disorder, protest and could violence.

so our humble request to you please do not allow him to come at the Idea Store.

please let me know your decision regarding this matter.

Nurul Islam Mahbub,Chairperson,Greater Sylhet Council UK

Kalam M A T Choudhury,Secretary,Voice For Justice UK

I’m not quite clear what Gaffar Choudhury is supposed to have said in New York but apparently it was something scholarly to do with the literal derivation of the word Allah.

However, some people allowed themselves to get upset by it. The Jamaat-e-Islami party, which has links to Tower Hamlets of course, put out a press release at the time saying this.

..his comments and remarks have emanated question whether he is a Muslim or not. It is the duty and obligation of every Muslim to raise voice against his derogatory statement about Islam and religious features.

According to the Daily New Nation paper in Bangladesh, another fundamentalist organisation there went further by calling for his execution. Here:

The Secretary General of Hefazat-e-Islam Allama Zunaid Babunagari in a statement said: “Gaffar Chowdhury has turned out to be an atheist. He can’t bear the identity of Muslim anymore if he does not repent and accept Islam again.”

He also demanded capital punishment of the expatriate Bangladeshi writer. He warned that a tougher movement would be launched against the government if it does not take punitive action against the atheists like ex-Minister Abdul Latif Siddique and columnist Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury.

I’m not sure if Tower Hamlets council was aware of these death threats hanging over him when it originally invited him to speak at the Idea Store for today’s event. I’d like to think they were: it would show they were championing free speech in the face of religious fascism.

But instead, after they received another threat of violence, they kicked their Freeman into touch. They told his supporters that his presence on a council property would not be conducive to community cohesion.

Here’s an email sent by new chief executive Will Tuckley to Ansar Ahmed Ullah, the organiser of yesterday’s cancelled Brady Centre event:

Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your request to book the Brady Centre on 20th February. I am writing to inform you that the council will not accept the booking for the proposed event.

The decision has been taken after careful consideration, and was guided by our terms and conditions of hire. This document makes clear that the council has complete discretion to determine whether to accept a booking and  includes a criterion that, “as a general rule, premises will not be available for public meetings with political, religious or any other content where the matters for discussion are…..controversial or sensitive in anyway or which may breach community cohesion”.

In making its decision, the council does not make a judgement on any individual.  The decision was informed by an assessment of risk that the proposed event, taking place in a council building, may have become controversial or impacted on community cohesion.

I would like to apologise for the way this matter has been managed.  In particular, I  am  aware that a staff member at the Brady Centre incorrectly advised you, prior to this booking request being considered in accordance with the council’s procedures.

I think Will Tuckley, who I’m told has been impressing everyone he deals with, was in more than a tricky position on this. But I don’t think he was well-advised or fully informed.

And once he’d taken that decision, it would have been difficult for Biggs (even if he had been so inclined) to overrule his new chief exec.

It’s quite likely they were advised by people with vested interests, politically and/or religiously. Perhaps the standing and credibility of those who whispered in their ears might now be lower as a result.

No chief exec or mayor wants to be known for banning free speech, especially after threats of violence.

Meanwhile, here’s Abdul Gaffar Choudhury’s song for Language Day.

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